The limitations of MS Excel compared to new high-speed scheduling tools
This article discusses why so many manufacturers schedule their plants with Excel and clearly explains why this is almost always a path to disaster.
Schedulers, as a rule, are not stupid. In fact, because so much of what happens in a manufacturing facility depends on them, they are quite smart. So, the big question is, “Why are so many schedulers using Excel?”.
The answer is quite simple. Because schedulers are on the front line where the “rubber meets the road”, they are usually the first ones to realize that their ERP system doesn´t have the tools needed to create and maintain a valid schedule. This causes a problem.
When top-level management invests millions on ERP software systems, they have very little interest in listening to a lower level scheduler explain that their shiny new software has no scheduling capability. This is almost guaranteed to cause a massive breakdown in communications between the front office and those who need to get things done.
The poor scheduler, who has now been hung out to dry with no tools and no money, turns to Excel because it is usually free, it’s easy to use, and it looks like a great solution. This is how the scheduler begins his long spiraling journey into a nightmare that will almost certainly have a serious impact on the company´s ability to survive.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
In most companies, the power of a scheduler to impact the bottom line seems to be a well-kept secret and because so few people understand the scheduling problem, schedulers tend to get caught between a rock and a hard place.
There is no doubt that, given enough time, Excel can create a valid schedule. For that matter a grade 5 student can create a valid schedule using colored cards and an empty wall. The problem however is not actually creating a schedule; the problem is keeping the schedule accurate and up-to-date. Once a schedule is out of date, it becomes useless as a basis for making decisions.
To understand the enormous output of time and energy it takes to update a schedule every time something changes, it is important to know that almost every change to a manufacturing schedule causes a ripple effect (like dominos falling). To accurately calculate the cascading impact of change without a system designed to do that can take hours or even days at which time it becomes obsolete. Updating the schedule once a week is usually a sign that you are in big trouble.
APS is the Solution
It doesn´t have to be this way because a good Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) system can re-schedule even a complex plant in a few minutes or even seconds. It doesn´t take a rocket scientist to figure out that manufacturers who can react quicker and smarter to change will always have a strategic competitive advantage.
Given the enormous impact that the scheduling process has on the performance of a manufacturing facility, what possible justification could there ever be for scheduling with Excel?
Manufacturing executives must get over the limitations of ERP and come face to face with the realization that this is no longer the issue. The issue is what to do about it?
Do they invest in APS technology or not?
Do they continue spending endless hours manually updating a schedule that is always out of date or do they invest in a system that will automate the process in just a few seconds each day.
Do they think that the scheduler should be running around in a panic fixing a never-ending stream of problems after they have happened?
Or, do they want the scheduler to spend time identifying and resolving problems before they happen? It doesn´t seem like a very difficult decision!
Mike Liddell is the CEO of Lean Scheduling International, a Siemens Silver Level Solution Provider who specializes in the implementation of Opcenter Advanced Planning & Scheduling, formerly known as Preactor. Since 1990, Mike has devoted all of his time to helping clients solve planning and scheduling problems.